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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Road Trip - Burlington, VT - Land of Free Samples

On the Road

We took a quick weekend excursion with our friends Mike and Diane to Burlington, Vermont. I like to look at it as a kind of working vacation, if you will. Burlington has a fine array of terrific brew pubs and breweries. What is truly amazing is that you can walk into any restaurant in the city and find a good beer. Many places would have ten or twelve taps with nary a Bud Light in sight.

Lake Placid Brewery and Pub

But first things first. On our way up we made a swing through Lake Placid to see the sights and stop at the Lake Placid Brewery and Pub for lunch. It's a cozy little unassuming pub with a friendly and knowledgeable staff. We ordered some tasty appetizers and a pint. They had five or six different brews on tap but we really only had time for one. I like their Ubu Ale, but we can get that around here. Hopheads that we are, Mike and I both opted for their Back Fence IPA. Very good brew with a strong hop presence. Went great with the nachos. Here's a neat little video on craft beers I found at the Lake Placid Brewery site: I am a Craft Brewer

Scenery Stuff

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay for more than one, since we had to push on to Vermont. The trip from Mexico, NY to Burlington is a long, twisty drive that yields some stunning vistas, especially in the fall with the leaves turning. We took the ferry across Lake Champlain, about a twenty minute excursion.

Mike and Diane waiting for the ferry

Les crossing Lake Champlain

Burlington - Vermont Brewing Company, Ben and Jerry's, Cheese and Chocolate

Our first stop in Burlington was the Vermont Brewing Company Pub where we enjoyed their excellent IPA.
Saturday we made a trip out to Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and did the tour there. It's worth doing. One of those things were there's a video showing how Ben and Jerry got started etc. You get to look in on the vats of ice cream, learn a little about the process. Interesting stuff and our tour guide was a fun and funky middle aged woman with the sort of ex-hippie laid-back attitude that befits Ben and Jerry's. Unfortunately, I wasn't thrilled with the flavor they had out as a free sample. One of those Cookies-and-Cream concoctions that many people just love. I find them overly sweet myself. But I seemed to be in the minority.
We then hit Cabot Cheese and tried a bunch of really tasty samples of cheese, crackers, condiments, dips. Went to a cider mill and got some free cider samples - delicious. Then hit Lake Champlain Chocolates for more freebees. Also bought some dark chocolate and some dark chocolate with hot pepper - really good.

Switchback Brewery

Finally, we were able to get to Switchback Brewery for their tour. We were greeted by a guy in his twenties, dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt and a young girl eating an orange. The tour is a bare-bones look at the inner workings of a brewery. No videos, no frills. The guy, friendly and unassuming, just gave us a brief history of Switchback, took us through the brewing process, showed us how the brewery has been steadily expanding. Switchback makes one beer - Switchback Ale. You cannot get it in bottles, only on tap. It is sold regionally throughout Vermont and much of northeastern New York. However, they struggle to keep up with the demand. They have no intentions to ever sell it in bottles, though they are working on a Porter for the holidays. We ended the tour with some samples of the beer taken right from one of the big holding tanks. It is a very nicely balanced ale. Would make a terrific session beer.

Magic Hat Brewery - Beer Chotchkies and Free Beer

For contrast, we left Switchback and went down the road to the Magic Hat Brewery. Magic Hat is a much larger brewery (our guide claimed it was the 10th largest in the US, though when I checked this out on a beer info site they came up 18th) and as such, their tour has all the trappings - witty guide, video, large balcony that overlooks the facility and a large gift shop/bar where you enter and exit. The theme, being close to Halloween, was Night of the living Dead.
Again, a very informative tour, but the highlight was the big bar with endless free samples. I sampled Lucky Kat IPA (very good ale, good hoppy bite), American Sour Ale (not my cup of tea - very strong lemony flavor. Reminded me of a European Shandy), Belgian Stout (liked it), a Black Lager (surprisingly good) and Roxie Rolles (loved it - nicely balanced ale).
Bought a Magic Hat pint glass with their "Night of the Living Dead" logo on it.

A Couple Other Brew Pubs

We also had time to hit a couple of other Brew Pubs: 3 Needs Brew Pub and American Flatbread. We tried to get reservations for dinner at American Flatbread, but there was a two and a half hour wait!
At 3 Needs, we had their Chocolate Porter (nice rich flavorful beer), and their IPA which was also good.
At American Flatiron their IPA was outstanding. Very strong hops with a nice bitter bite. We also tried their ZG Helles Cask Ale. A good session beer, but we should have had it before the IPA rather than after as it rather falls flat by comparison.

If you like good craft beers, it's hard to beat Burlington.

Lake Champlain